Tamil in multimedia and Internet

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY - defined as the convergence of electronics, computing and telecommunications - has opened the floodgate of technological innovation in information management. Due to the advancement and breakthrough in transistors, semiconductors and integrated circuits, microelectronic chips has led to a number of benefits. India, with its new skills of design, maintenance and management, will be poised to take advantage of information technology to `leap-frog' in producing new products through the use of high technology. However, leap- frogging pre-supposes the existence of organisational and innovation capabilities.

Tamil Nadu possesses technological capability at a sufficiently high level, to assimilate the high technology efficiently for developing the state-of-the art ``Tamil computer''. Development of Tamil computer through the standardisation of Tamil keyboard layouts and evolving coding schemes has in fact resulted in certain developments.

Realising the long felt need for developing the Tamil computer, and taking into consideration the changing scenario, the Tamil Nadu Government has initiated concrete steps to introduce Information Technology as the focal point of management and provide constant encouragement to the experts for the development of the Tamil computer.

Changing scenario

The liberalised policy initiated by the Tamil Nadu Government will make the availability of computers widely dispersed in future. However, in a recently concluded international conference, it was remarked that ``despite all the hype about modern information technology, above all, the microchip cannot fill peoples bellies''.

This argument may be countered only by democratised access of people and communities to the new information technologies.

The Government has to recognise the powerful role the information technology can play in addressing the outstanding issues of the 21st century: poverty, exclusion, inequality, conflict and sustainability.

Hence, concerted effort by the Government to utilise computers, and accessing information, catering for the needs of common citizens in the state, will be truly worthwhile.

In this regard, computing power has to be distributed not only in towns and cities, but in the rural areas as well.


The latest Western technology is electronic and oral in nature and effects. Initially, the computer and subsequently the internet were designed to input, process and output data, mainly in text forms. Following the history and tradition of literate culture, the computers were designed to understand the alphabets, particularly-Romanised alphabets and remained virtually the handmaid of English knowing literate. Due to this exclusion, there exists a feeling that computers are designed as vehicles, imposing what is called `English Imperialism' on other cultures and linguistic groups which were non-English and non-romanised in linguistic form. Citing an example, France had openly revolted to the imposition of English in the Internet and advocated for an exclusive Internet in French.

The futurists forecast that the culture and language will divide the new media technologies such as multi-channel cable system, computers and video technologies on the lines of linguistic and ethnic groups. This will create new markets for them in terms of exclusive hardware and software suites by providing indigenous Internet and multimedia services.

Internet, TV linked to the computer and the transmission of print data through satellite hookups and a combination of video related technologies will be suitably adopted to offer programmes in one's own mother tongue. Operating systems, word processors, desktop printing and other application software will be developed indigenously.

Hence, it is essential that the future developments for Tamil computer must be worked out based upon the emerging media such as the satellite, the database, teletext-videotext etc.

The emergence of multimedia enabled computers to input, process and output, text, image and sound not sequentially, but on an all-at-once manner. The application of multimedia techniques has resulted in new exciting possibilities of using the computer for text to voice and voice to text conversion, the application of Voice Dictation Technology and Voice Recognition Techniques. In future, as in the case of the computer at Disney World where ``all aspects of show performances `on-stage' throughout Walt Disney World (27,000 acres) are monitored from the opening and closing of theatre doors to the singing of bears, birds, and the speeches of pirates and presidents - and, one might also add, the direction of all lighting, heat, air-conditioning, and garbage disposal'', the state as well as the enterprises will use the computers to offer their services to all their beneficiaries irrespective of social, economic and cultural disparities.

Low cost and efficient linking of all the terminal hookups will be able to provide up to the second orchestration of sound and visual information without discriminating people on lines of rural-urban and literate-illiterate continuum.

The multi-media industry is promising to launch the new millennium with computers that take oral commands and may not need keyboards at all and telephones that receive and send email by voice signals.


The Net will become more and more exploratory, reducing itself into smaller and informal units. Exchanging documents that use different vocabularies and different languages are possible with the Internet technology.

The Internet is expanding into new frontiers of technology, essential for the evolution of Web applications in different languages.

With the new developments, it is possible to set up web sites and communicate on the net using Tamil script.

The objective is to find an easy and effective way to communicate in Tamil on Internet, using Tamil script that will enable computer users to send-e-mails, develop website and use other basic protocols on the Internet in Tamil.

Imperialism and colonialism has perpetrated a rigid regimentation of not only a Romanised character set, but also a preparatory set (mental state), which inhibits people to think beyond the frame and rules. It is pertinent to point out that while all over the world the QWERTY keyboard was used for a long time due to the advent of the English typewriter, the French alone have a different keyboard called ZWERTY.

However, computer scientists who were in search of suitable peripheral device for input had selected the keyboard with the obvious reason that a large number of people, trained in English typing, would be able to input English like commands and data without much difficulty. With the help of a keyboard layout one can easily design a simple system that will enable users communicate in Tamil by replacing all Roman characters in a font. Such a solution can be designed within an hour and does not require testing on all platforms. However, replacing Roman characters with Tamil characters will impose many inconveniences to users. Further, an encoding that does not support Roman characters cannot be defined as a ``character-set'' and will face problems in standarisation.

Moreover, there are many restrictions on the protocols of Internet and one cannot simply design a Tamil character system that could satisfy all requirements.


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Future directions and responsibilities

The opportunity to provide access to the Net over the normal analog phone connection without requiring a keyboard or device of any kind, just by making anyone operate from anywhere can be thought of as a future technology. But the pre-requisite will be a basic voice interface capable of input, process and output of Tamil codes in the form of voice. What is most interesting is that, it puts all the voice-recognition capability up in the network, but not in the device.

A new technology, named as WebPad allows users to grab Web pages and electronic mail from a computer 500 feet away. The WebPad fitted to a set- top box for the Web may be a laptop. Chipmaker Cyrix Corp. is working on a prototype of a 3-pound, thin computing device that allows individuals to access the Internet by radio waves from anywhere within a 500-foot-wide circle. To make the WebPad work, users attach a radio transmitter and receiver to a phone line. The device will work with low-speed conventional phone lines, but Cyrix is planning on the next wave of Web usage, when high-speed cable and digital phone connections come into vogue.

Superior Speech Recognition provides a hands-off approach to using the PC by speaking instead of typing. Development of speech recognition software in Tamil will create, format and move text by voice within virtually any Windows application. With Superior speech recognition technology once adopted to work in Tamil, it will be able to create and edit letters, reports and spreadsheets without ever touching the mouse or keyboard. Enhanced productivity, reduced effort, increased speed and greater control will be available to the users.

The PCs can even be operated totally hands-free with voice commands. Virtually any windows application, including Excel, Word, Word Perfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Power Point, and even Internet Explorer could be operated through voice commands to dictate, edit, and control application functionality. Everything from data entry to formating and printing can be achieved without ever touching the keyboard.

A minimum risk of repetitive motion injuries by virtually eliminating typing, hands-free cursor control with pinpoint accuracy, high quality noise cancelling microphone that eliminates background noise and word display right on the screen are some of the benefits that multimedia will be able to offer the Tamil computer. The advantage of hands-free and eyes-free ease of computer usage will expand the use of computer, irrespective of whether a user is trained to use the computer keyboard or has any exposure to the written language.

IP Telephony, which converts voice into packets for transmission over TCP/IP Networks, is poised to revolutionise telecommunications. A review of several approaches to IP telephony indicates the availability and use of (1) PC based- server gateways based on industry standard voice cards, (2) PC based-server gateways based on specialised DSP cards (3) stand alone network appliances, (4) Multi-purpose NIC/sound card and (5) stand alone IP telephones.

Voice recognition and mega-chips are on top of the agenda. Telephony and computing will be competing with and supplementing each other possibly in entirely new modes. The products of sunrise technology are fuelling dreams of this brave new world of the 21st century, each promising quantum leap in technology and services for the Tamil and Tamil computer. The Voice Dictation and Voice Recognition will be able to generate scientific vocabulary that one can dictate naturally and directly into the PC, eliminating the time and cost needed to have documents keyed in.

IBM has made a breakthrough with a high-speed chip, which will enable it to create more powerful voice recognition software. Using voice-recognition software, e-mails can be sent through phone. It will be possible for a user to listen to a computer and read his/her e-mail over the phone. Reading e-mail without a computer can be as easy as making a phone call.

Everything, whether voice or video, is fast becoming data. The future success for the development of Tamil computer will depend on how text, sound and image are put in a more flexible and pliable multi-optional data network. The convergence of voice, data and video into one vast multi-media network will usher in a new era of embedding the efforts of Tamil development within the context of entirely new data networking technologies.

According to Gartner Group, emerging technologies go through four stages: hype, disillusionment, enlightenment (when the technology is ready for prime-time use) and real-world productivity benefits. Most of the systems required to develop the Tamil computer do not really exist. The world's best speech recognition software is available today in other languages, but training the software orienting individual user's voice would mean a lot of initial hard work.

There are many information technologies such as hardware designers, software developers and telecommunication specialists who are interested in developing Tamil communication software. However, there must be a suitable mechanism for cooperation and coordination, which are as follows:

First and foremost, the effort to develop the Tamil computer must be global, interactive and non-commercial. Secondly, there must be an institutional mechanism such as an advanced institute of study in line with the Advanced Institute of Science at Princeton must be established to invite the best minds to conceptualise the Tamil computer. Thirdly, an Advisory Committee consisting of Tamil scholars and Information specialists must be constituted to prepare the state-of-the art report on the development of Tamil computer with definite directives regarding the future course of action. Finally, the Internet community of Tamil scholars and emerging computer professionals will be encouraged to contribute ideas for the development of Tamil computer.

The Tamil Nadu Government, as a prime mover, must extend all possible help by means of establishing powerful servers as mirror sites so as to enable the acquisition and distribution of Tamil communication software for testing, validation and updating.